Monday, March 29, 2010

Rollin' - Rollin' On The River

If you look close, (double click on the photo to enlarge) there is water coming out of the wood top boards on this patio display. Thought it was an interesting feature. Also note the "Tiki" bar, one of several on display.

Visited the QCCA Flower Show yesterday and came home with some event notices I'll share:

The Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River refuge will begin monthly bird walks on the 2nd Saturday of the month starting April 10th. Birders meet at 8 a.m. in the Sloane Marsh parking lot across from the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center, 7071 Riverview Rd. Thomson IL (815-273-2732.)

The Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island IL will be hosting a "Welcome Home" event for the Native Americans - Sac and Fox of Oklahoma and the Meskwaki of Tama Iowa on May 1 & 2.

Stroll Through Springtime, Saturday, May 1st, at Watch Tower Lodge, Black Hawk State Historic Site, 1510 46th Ave. (Black Hawk Rd./IL Rte 5), Rock Island IL. Starts at 7:00 a.m. with local bird experts leading small groups to view migrating and resident birds. Binoculars are helpful. Meet at the Black Hawk statue by the Lodge. 9:00 a.m. is refreshments and a program "Forest Plants: More Than Meets the Eye" and 10:00 a.m. Local experts lead groups to view wildflowers. 309-788-9536 or the above website.

The Davenport Horticultural Society meets the 4th Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Duck Creek Park Lodge. They have a speaker/program and dessert or potluck dinner. Membership is $10 and they are a very active group. Call Joyce McDonald 309-355-5367 for more information.

What did I see at the Flower Show: lots of people and lots of stone. The flowers weren't really much of the show although most displays had used plants.

Met the folks from Fisher's Nursery, rural Mineral/Sheffield area. I didn't even know they were in business. They say, "acres of high quality field grown trees - both shade and ornamental". or call 815-454-2819. It sounds as if you need to contact them before arriving.

I think it's easy to gauge what is being pushed to consumers by the many and varied stone displays - most included outdoor fireplaces. Many included structures over the stone works in either wood or plastic, water features, cooking areas, and several televisions (are you kidding me!) I find it strange anyone would want a TV when they could be listening and looking at the beauty of nature but then I'm not selling TVs.

Many of the vendors were selling "stuff" both garden related and some was just stuff. I did notice the ice cream cone vendor was doing a great business. That and some odd broom thingy that before summer is over, a whole host of people will wonder what possessed them to impulse buy.

Finally, it was fun to see Channel 8, WQAD Weather Wizard, Anthony Peoples, at their booth. Visited with locals, Debbie and Cindy, who were wandering the exhibits much like we were.

These shows are an opportunity to see what's available in our area, dream a bit, realize there must be people who spend a lot more than I do on their yards, and maybe take away an idea or two.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Hear the Train a Comin'

365 Winter Outdoor Model Train Garden
Dutch Valley Outdoor Narrow Gauge (SD) Railroad Garden

Fairplex Garden Outdoor Railroad Garden - Trolly

There’s a good share of us that wax nostalgic about trains. Is it riding the rails, watching them scoot through our country side, restoring old depots and Pullman cars or playing with model trains?

I have a friend who introduced me to Model Train Gardening (MTG) and I’ve been fascinated ever since.

You may think putting model trains in a northern garden is a disaster waiting to happen, but there are virtually hundreds of these gardens in the northern states.

Like most hobbies, there is every kind of resource possible for those interested. Web sites, clubs, magazines, stores and MTG public gardens are abundant. Like most hobbyists, Model Train Gardeners enjoy sharing their gardens and knowledge as much as doing the work.

My friend’s MTG was half outside and the other half ran inside their porch. Others are in hillsides, raised beds, incorporated around pools, in small gardens or use an entire yard.

Trains are from the smallest gauge to big enough to ride.

Most have a theme. They mimic an area, towns, a period in time, historic places, and many focus on a particular railroad.

The flora around a MTG is as specific as the trains. To look in scale, they must be as miniature as the trains themselves. Small evergreens pruned to look like miniature trees are necessary for balance.

Water in the form of streams or lakes (a train has to have a bridge), grass, flowers, and other miniature perennial trees and bushes are an art form all themselves.

MTGs are labor intensive but are generally the hobby of someone who enjoys it so much, it’s not work as much as a labor of love. Because everything must be kept to scale, the live greenery requires maintenance. Being outdoors requires clean-up on a regular basis.

Some of the hobbyists build all their own landscapes, buildings, terrain, and accessories. Others, frequent flea markets, e-Bay, and estate sales for buildings, cars, track, and the other little items it takes to look realistic. While many started with a basement full of plywood and childhood dreams, Model Train Gardeners take it to a whole other level once they venture outside.

The entire mechanics of MTGs is another issue. I’ll only lightly touch on a few considerations: Level firm track bed, power source, winter protection and storage, drainage, children and pets.

If you think it’s only for the rich and famous, consider the very nice MTG viewed during a Galva Arts Council’s Garden Tour a few years ago. Built on a small hill in their back yard, it was the beginning of a very nice feature. I did notice every child and his father had a certain dreamy look in their eyes as they walked around this miniature landscape!

If you would like to view a MTG or get some ideas, visit the many ones incorporated into public gardens. The Chicago Botanical Garden has one based on all handmade replicas of historical buildings.

A website worth visiting belongs to the “Minnesota Garden Railway Society” who humorously describes themselves as “empire builders.”

I’m just sure the restoration of the old Lafayette Depot should include a model train garden. Perhaps a call to the McKirgans is in order! Then their annual railroad music fest will include singing: “I hear the train a comin' - It's rollin' 'round the bend…” *

* "Folsom Prison Blues"

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Heart's Not In It

If you have heart problems, be sure your doctor knows about any herbal remedies you're using.

That's the advice from an article in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The article's authors discuss a variety of popular herbs that may interact badly with medications you're taking for your heart. This list is a long one, and the interactions can cause serious health problems. Herbs of special concern include:

St. John's Wort.
This is a popular remedy for depression. However, St. John's Wort can decrease the effectiveness of the drug warfarin, which is a "blood thinning" drug. This may increase your risk of blood clots. This herb may also make cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin less effective, the authors write.

This drug touted for its effects on virility and longevity can also combine badly with medications. It, too, can make warfarin less effective, and if you're taking diabetes drugs, you may develop low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia.

Herbalists often use this treatment for the chest pain known as angina and congestive heart failure. However, it can increase the effect of the drug dioxin (also known as digitalis), which is used for heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. The herb could also make you more likely to bleed if you're taking anti-clotting drugs.

Saw palmetto.
This herb is widely used by men to treat prostate enlargement. It can increase bleeding if you're taking warfarin.

Your doctor may not think to ask you if you're taking herbs, so it's up to you to make sure that you discuss any herbs you're using or you're interested in taking. Discuss why you want to take the herb (your doctor may be able to recommend medications that can treat the symptoms that are bothering you), and bring along the herb's label and packaging information if possible.

Some "wonder" drugs advertised on TV are basically herb based. They are not regulated by the FDA which means they are not tested by them nor is the manufacturer under obligation to warn of the dangers. Some may work, some may be harmless, and others could be deadly.

These were just a few of the herbs that concerned those treating heart conditions. Always discuss everything you take (prescription or over-the-counter or picked from the garden) with your attending medical personnel.
Since I just ran across this information offered by the Life Line Screening folks, I wanted to pass it along.

Hornbaker Gardens

Hornbaker Gardens, 22937 1140 N. Ave, Princeton IL 61356 (815-659-3282 If you haven't previously visited Hornbaker Gardens, my advice is to use a GPS or take someone who's been there before.

Hornbaker has an extensive on-line catalog and web site. For those located outside the area, this is a good way to shop. For those of us within driving distance, there's no substitute for wandering their grounds.

Hornbaker's is beautifully situated and landscaped. It's grown (no pun intended) from a little hosta place to "the" place to go for hosta, iris, daylilies, perennials, landscape plants and materials.

Before I wax on as if they're perfect, they do have some things to watch: They're not cheap. Their "clumps" are single and should be considered when price comparing. They are a large business and can be rather impersonal. The worst thing about them is my inability to just get what I came for and not want every beautiful plant I see.
That aside, they have good quality plants that tend to take hold and survive better than most mail order of the same species or variety. The landscaped areas allow those with not so much experience to visualize what could be (given a crew of several hundred and more money than a house payment but still...really outstanding.)
If you want an awe inspiring site, visit their iris or daylily beds (in bloom season). No where can you get a better idea of what your plant will look like than seeing in bloom in a field situation. Stand back and you know what flower stands out from a distance. Walk the rows and you know what flower takes your breath away up close and personal.
As I've said, they only give single fans and it looks really skimpy when you pick them up. I do think this is reflected in the price they charge. I've never had an iris or daylily from Hornbaker fail to set up quickly and be very healthy.
Hornbaker's "open house and hosta walk" is June 10-11-12, 2010. Additionally, peak iris bloom is usually the last two weeks in May. Daylily bloom season starts around July 1. Ornamental grasses plume July through October. As always, weather can effect these dates so you may want to watch the web site or give them a call if these are your passion.
Kramer's Chuck Wagon (yummy good) serves food on certain Saturdays - check if this is important to your plans. Otherwise, they have picnic tables for sack lunches or just sit and rest.
"Prairie Country Gardens" and "A Few of My Favorite Things" north out of Galva on the Galva/Atkinson Blacktop (309-932-8177) have combined to add fresh flowers along with Diane Nelson's seasonal and decorative things.
This is a great little place to pick up annuals, vegetables, and some different perennials. She doesn't carry a large quantity so timing your visit is key. I see she has pansies right now. She has a sign out front and it states the current "what's new".
Diane also gets in orders of fresh blueberries, peaches, and other fruits direct from the growers. These are usually only by pre-ordering. She carries seasonal plants such as Easter lilies, poinsettias, and other holiday specific varieties.
Nice local person and business to support with your dollars.

Not so Comfey Comfrey

When we first bought this old house in Fall of 1997, my daughter called and said she had been offered an entire garden if she would come get everything by the end of the week. We both dropped everything we were doing, hopped in my truck (shovels on board) and hit the ground running (or digging as it was.)

We first took everything we could identify and knew was valuable. Valuable in the sense we knew what it would cost to buy comparable plants at a nursery. Next, we took things we couldn't identify but looked good. Finally, we took anything else that just might be good simply because it was free. A day later the entire yard was bulldozed.

Several truck loads of plants, stacked several deep, and we were smug and happy with our "find." Next, we both had to go home and dig that many holes again. Since this old house had no gardens, I also had to dig up a couple of big plots of ground - one in the sun and one in the shade. They were then plopped (literally) into the ground willy-nilly to get the job done that night.

These plants are referred to as "Galesburg Preacher" plants as that was our benefactor. Mostly, benefactor is correct. We received some very old heirloom plants that I value as much for their history as their beauty. We had some wonderful surprises with bulbs being buried in the roots of perennials. Almost all of my hosta came from those original "GP" plants. The sheer quantity was truly a blessing for this gardener.

Then there was a couple of not so much blessings. One was garlic chives and another was flowering vinca. I rue the day these babies hit my garden and have unsuccessfully fought them every year since.

The other is the perennial herb Common Comfrey (Symphytum officinale). Comfrey grows almost anywhere and is valuable under my large walnut trees as a covering. It is about 24" high, has large blue/green leaves that shade out weeds, and pretty little pink/blue/lavender bell shaped flowers. And there the blessings stop.

It has a tap root that is huge and several feet deep. It is almost impossible to pull it all up and it will come back over and over. It self seeds with abandon being carried far and wide. (Bocking 14 doesn't self seed) It gets dark brown, stringy and rotten-looking in early fall. This garden goo is said to be a fine fertilizer but never put anything but the leaves on soil or it will sprout. It has fine hairs on the stems and leaves which stick into the skin. It crowds out/kills other plants as it spreads. When asked what the name of "that" pretty plant is, I refer to it as "the plant from hell."

Constant pulling will eventually deter it as will a healthy dose of "Round Up". In places where I've let it stay, I mow it when it starts it's ugly wilt in the Fall and it will re-sprout in a few weeks and look good as new.

This plant is the origin of the herbal tea "Comfrey" that is often sold in health food stores and web based herbal stores.
This herb should not be used as a medicine or ingested as it contains poison.

This plant contains several pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which cause veno-occlusive symptoms, liver cirrhosis, and death. Humans have been affected after ingesting herbal teas and medicines. I found reports that the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada's health officials have banned sale of some comfrey products. In 2001 the USFDA issued a warning against internal usage.
There is a comfrey that is said to have the poison removed during harvest/production. This is controversial and I tend to error on the side of caution.

Animals normally do not ingest the plant because of the bristly hairs. Topical herbal preparations are not considered toxic because the alkaloids do not reach the liver.

I've seen this Common Comfrey and Russian Comfrey plant offered by some nurseries and seed suppliers. One old country name is "knitbone" as it was believed to speed healing of broken bones. Like many old herbals, the "benefits" were stated as many and varied. The roots are more toxic than the leaves. Symptoms of poisoning include ascites, edema, and reduced urinary output. Children are more susceptible than adults. Poisoning is slow to show itself until considerable damage has been done. That's another reason to discontinue using as a drink or herbal medication.

Comfrey is still being tested for other uses such as forage, but, to date with little success.
Yep, my comfort level with comfrey aka the plant from hell, is pretty darn uncomfortable.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Game of Old Maid

When someone asks me what my favorite Spring flower is, it reminds me of the children's card game, Old Maid. I like them all, with the exception of maybe one. OK, never mind - I like them all.

Not sure about your yard and gardens but mine are ahead of the normal on what is coming up. Because I live out where the winter winds refuse to leave quickly in the Spring, my bulbs are usually behind town folks. Maybe it was because of the thick layering of snow most of the winter. Kept the ground wrapped in a good insulating blanket and gave the bulbs a head start.

Tulips, hyacinths, crocus, scillas, daffodils and camassias leaves have all erupted from the ground. Naked Lady lilies, daylilies, iris and other perennials are also up several inches. Some of the vines and bushes have started to leaf out. (Have you brought in a branch of forsythia to force into bloom?)

Another sign of spring is the return of red winged blackbirds and killdeer. A friend said she had three swans on their lake. Most days we hear flocks of geese flying overhead. We make quite a deal about the return of robins but other birds have the same cycle and indicate spring as well. I'll know warmth is here for good when the male gold finches molt into their summer yellow feathers.

I don't get too eager in the Spring to remove mulch, leaves and yard debris. Although most bulbs and perennials are tough, why risk getting them nipped or deformed by a cold snap.

Some things that can be done right now:
  • Enjoy the crocus blooming and lightly pull off anything that is shielding them from the sun and view.
  • Pick up broken limbs and sticks. If your yard or neighborhood permits, start a brush pile for a small wildlife habitat.
  • Cut down clematis vines, butterfly bushes, and hyacinth beans that bloom on new wood/growth.
  • Finish trimming fruit trees.
  • Put up your cleaned birdhouses.
  • Make sure all your eves and downspouts are cleaned and free flowing.
  • Wash your porches and lawn furniture. On those warm afternoons, it's a great place to watch the unfolding of yet another summer.
  • Repair/repaint any furniture that took a beating this winter.
  • And last but not least, take down the Christmas lights and decorations. I know, it's hard and not nearly as exciting as putting them up. But never fear, for those of us who love a little glitz it's almost time to put up those patio lights!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oakes Daylilies

Hemeocallis "Barbara Mitchell" daylily which I bought from Oakes Daylilies.
Yes, I'm a "Hem Head"; meaning my big garden passion is daylilies.
At first, I bought daylilies only from local nurseries. Local nurseries, in an effort to cater to the masses, usually only carry a limited supply of one particular plant. Once you've bought what they offer, you're done. Local nurseries usually carry the most common varieties because the most common are often the most popular with the masses. An example would be the Stella de Oro daylily. (The exception to this in this area would be the huge display at Hornbakers Nursery near Princeton.)
I then discovered "Oakes Daylilies" and thanks to the variety, the exceptional size and number of the fans, and the lifetime guarantee, I'm a loyal customer.
Oakes is owned by the Ken Oakes family and they're located in Corryton, TN. They sell over the net and at their nursery. Because they are located south of me, I usually only buy their "dormant" variety daylilies - these being more hardy in Zone 5.
Their web site is easy to use. Besides the fact that each order usually includes at least two large healthy fans (sometimes more), they typically include a bonus gift plant worth 20% of your order. Their descriptions are accurate. They publish both good and bad reviews of each flower.
When I had a semi evergreen not come up, they promptly replaced with an equal value lily of my choice, no questions asked. They operate their business as Christians, which included blessing me when a month later my daylily did come up and I refunded their refund.
It's not that I don't trade daylilies, love any free daylilies offered by friends, buy locally from nurseries or from plant sales. It's not even the only on-line nursery I use, but, it is one of the best.
Should you be traveling in TN during their annual daylily open house, make a point to stop. It is wow inspiring.
A reminder: If you are interested in joining us for coffee in Bishop Hill one day for the pleasure of talking daylilies, let me know and I'll keep you informed. We've already had contacts and look forward to seeing everyone in the near future.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Red Barn Nursery

Red Barn Nursery is located at 15722 645 E. St. Sheffield, IL 61361. Phone: (815) 454-2294. or web site

Red Barn Nursery does not sell on line or through catalogs but is one of the best places to visit for large variety of annuals. They grow their annuals from seed in their own greenhouses and also carry a variety of geraniums, perennials, grasses and shrubs.

They are friendly and major in customer service. They've been in business for nineteen years and their plants are healthy and reasonably priced.

April Hours
This year starting Thursday the April 15th
Mon. - Sat. : 9 A.M. - 5 P.M. Closed Sundays
May Hours
Mon. - Sat. : 9 A.M. - 6 P.M. Sundays : 1 P.M. - 5 P.M.
June - July 3rd
Hours (Closed July 4th) - Mon. - Sat. : 9 A.M. - 5 P.M.
July 5th - mid September
Call for appointment.
Red Barn was the first place where I had found numerous varieties of Nasturtiums. Their variety of vegetables is about the best I've seen outside catalogs. They feature over eighty varieties of tomatoes plus many other vegetables, geraniums, and root fruits.
On a sad note: Tippypine Greenhouse will not be opening again. Located north of Kewanee, Sharon Manthe provided some of the most hardy plants I've purchased. Her hanging baskets were healthy, long-lived, and beautiful. She tried to keep her prices very reasonable and she was a success at all she offered.
Sharon was in my Master Gardener class. I'm sad her health now prevents the hard work necessary to do the business she loved. Former customers may wish her well by writing 8342E 27th St., Kewanee IL 61443

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Renee's Garden Seeds Nursery

Renee's Garden Seeds is an on-line (only) source for seeds of heirloom and cottage garden flowers, aromatic herbs, and gourmet vegetables from around the world.

In addition, Renee Shepherd's web site is full of useful garden information for the seed gardener as-well-as recipes, products, garden design and other odd specialized things.

It's a good time to visit her site since many seeds need to be started early or a plan needs to be in place before the ground thaws and that last freeze hits. She also has diagrams that help the small or first time gardeners with laying out a veggie plot; maximizing the use of land.

Here is one of her recipes and if you fix it today, CALL ME:

Fran’s Orange Scented Chocolate Zucchini Cake
This moist cake is not too sweet and has enticing highlights of chocolate and orange. A welcome change from ordinary zucchini bread or carrot cake.

2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1 whole egg, slightly beaten
3 egg whites, slightly beaten
2 cups finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
GARNISH: sifted powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease and flour a round 10-inch spring form baking pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa two times. In a large separate bowl, combine the sugar, oil, and orange zest, mixing well. Add the whole egg and egg whites, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the zucchini. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a separate cup.
Add the dry ingredients to the zucchini mixture alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla, a third at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the spring form pan, between the pan and the cake . Remove the sides of the pan. When the cake is completely cool, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Serves 8 to 10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

White Flower Farm Nursery

Image of heirloom tomatoes from the White Flower Farm web site.

I'll be inserting a few short stories about some nurseries (catalog, on-line and local) that you may want to investigate this Spring. Sometimes it just worth a good read and look.

I'm not endorsing any of them for any reason other than information and looking. Should you decide to buy, it will be at your own risk and following your own investigation. With that laid out, here we go on the first.

I sign up for e-mail notifications from certain web based nursery outlets, garden blogs, and public gardens. Today, I'll talk about "White Flower Farms".

I don't usually buy annuals and very few perennials from web based sources (daylilies being the exception.) My own personal reason is I want to see the plant, touch it and determine if it's worth the money. With the additional cost of shipping, the potential for loss is greater than I'm usually willing to risk. Some folks have done this for years and are most happy with the results.

My advice, if you haven't previously used the source, carefully read EVERYTHING in their conditions/policies/descriptions. Then only order one relatively inexpensive thing the first time. There are also several places you can investigate their reliability: has ratings and reviews on just about any nursery and garden supply store, both on line and other.

White Flower Farms has a great web site, it's easy to maneuver, beautifully designed, and has loads of other information. Today's e-mail notice from WFF, focused on tomatoes.

I can tell you I was almost salivating as I looked at over one hundred types available. They do a good job of putting them into categories which allows even easier shopping. Most are available in seeds and plants.

Seriously, is there any tomato lover that isn't dieing for a slice of home grown tomato right now? When you compare production greenhouse/shipped tomatoes with fresh from-the-garden, it's like comparing cardboard to caviar.

WFF typically has some varieties of vegetables that I've never been able to find locally.

White Flower Farm, opened in 1950, and is located in Litchfield CN. Check out their site for tours and programs.

Friday, March 12, 2010

American Gardens

Heirloom "Amish Paste" tomatoes.
One of the great garden wonders about the United States of America is the eclectic mix of styles
we can see throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia. If you include the several territories we possess in the Caribbean and Pacific, the range of diversity is even greater.

When I talk about garden styles, I’m not describing the vast and wonderful natural areas (such as seen in our National Parks). I’m referring to the things humans have introduced from their native lands.

Few of us can search our genealogical background and find we are descended from Native American linage. For the rest of us when our ancestors emigrated here, most brought seeds from home and that style of gardening.

Coupled with ancestral garden styles was the immediate need to establish gardens and crops to sustain the pilgrims through the first harsh years. Successful pioneers made sure that among their few possessions was a cache of seeds. Some even carried a few flower seeds tucked in a handkerchief or fold of paper.

This is why America has such a diverse mix of beautiful garden plants and styles. Once an area was settled, importers would start bringing seeds and occasionally plants from the far corners of the world. Seldom were these embraced until there was a measure of affluence in the society. Without affluence, necessity usually meant all energy, resources and time was used for the production of food stuffs.

Even the food products reflect the origins of our pioneer families. We often see pockets of ethic food being sold at farmer’s markets which reflect the regional ancestry. Mixed with the grain introduced to immigrants by the Native Americans, these ancestral food products have been kept alive by our desire to have a “little taste of home.” This desire has been passed down through the generations.

Even many renown garden designers, landscapers, architects show a definite leaning towards their own ancestry. This is why we see many large public gardens fashioned after ones in other countries.

Examples are many but a few garden styles are:

· Japanese: Minimalistic, structured for serenity & balance.
· Victorian: From the Queen Victoria era in the UK; eclectic and full.
· Edwardian: From King Edward’s reign in the UK; over-the-top opulence.
· Cottage: Another UK design, fenced & full.
· Swedish/French: Broomcorn, Baroque design, & water gardens
· German/Swiss: Amish tomatoes, & park-like design with structure & domestic animals
· Irish: Potatoes, stone gardens & fences

While it’s beneficial and beautiful to include many native plants in your gardens, it’s also fun to include plants and designs from your nation of origin. Be it simply for ornamental purposes or to include some of the foodstuff that represents your heritage.

Chances are if you live in an area which includes pockets of your own ethnic group you will easily find examples. If not, scope out catalogs and on- line sources. I’ve managed to find okra and collard plants locally for my husband’s southern-raised enjoyment. For myself, I’ve raised the Amish tomato, great for canned tomato sauce and paste.

I must wonder if Carl Boberg wasn’t thinking of his native Sweden, it plants and flora when he wrote this song. As did my ancestors, I marvel along with Boberg at the beauty and bounty of that which I am blessed.

“When thru the woods and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze,
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

- Carl Gustav Boberg “How Great Thou Art” 1885 Swedish Hymn

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Four-Square Gardens

Illustration of a typical Pennsylvania Dutch kitchen garden, called Four-Square Gardens. This illustration is from the Renfrew Institute for Cultural and Environmental Studies.
Although the original raised beds were devised by residents of Swiss cloisters and monasteries, the early Pennsylvania Germans are known for bringing it to the colonies. Many Pennsylvania Dutch* or Germans were from areas of German speaking Switzerland. Many migrated through Germany before emigrating to the US.
At this period in time, there were "rules" for these raised beds (raised beds is the current terminology). Rules of the era for Pennsylvania German kitchen gardening were:
  1. The woman was the primary gardener.
  2. The men built the garden, spread manure on the beds in the fall and turned the soil in the spring.
  3. The women and children planted, weeded, watered, and picked.
  4. The women and children preserved the food.
  5. The garden contained four symmetrical raised garden beds (occasionally more but always even numbered).
  6. The beds were divided by narrow paths of packed earth.
  7. The raised beds were bordered with planks of first-growth pine or oak (in those days that wood lasted 20-30 years). These were held in place by stakes of the same wood.
  8. The garden was always fenced with pales or pickets, placed close enough together to keep critters out but spaced to let air flow and had pointed tops.
  9. Fences were to keep out rabbits, skunks, raccoons and groundhogs. Deer were not a problem because they were slaughtered for food.
  10. Pales were attached by two nails and used over and over if anything needed replaced.
The prime function of raised beds was to allow easy drainage and conditioning of the soil. It allowed the planting of seeds long before access to muddy fields in the spring. Great attention was given to keep the soil loose. Cultivation was only done with a hoe. There was never any pressure on the soil from standing or pressure from hands.
Seeds were precious and failure of a crop meant going without food. What may seem silly rules actually was tried and true methods of maximizing produce. Without these families perished.
There was a difference between field and garden crops. Cabbages, potatoes, turnips and field peas were grown in the farmer's fields by the men. The woman's kitchen garden provided at least two crops a year such as English sweet peas, lettuces, spring onions, radishes, carrots, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons. Other popular plants were spinach, savoy cabbage, and popcorn.
Sometimes the fences that surrounded the gardens were used to support vines and fruit bushes. One important vine was hops. The dried flowers were used in making bread, beer and stuffing pillows.
Although the Four-Square layout is often used for herb gardens, the Pennsylvania Germans didn't have herb gardens as we understand them. Space was too precious and few flavor enhancers were used besides onions, parsley, sage and dill. Some Mennonites used Saffron from crocus "savitus" but it's very labor intensive.
In those times, these gardens were placed near the kitchen door and near a source of water since raised beds typically drain easily and need more frequent watering during droughts.
Since the Pennsylvania Germans were among the first in the US to barn, pen and pasture their animals, it allowed them to collect manure, which was applied to both the gardens and fields.
Flowers had no place in the Four-Square gardens unless for their food value. Decorative flowers, if planted at all, were not in the gardens. Some show a small round circle in the middle of the garden (see illustration). These are planted by Protestants with the Adam & Eve plant (yucca) or Roman Catholics used Rosemary as a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Some flowers were grown to repel beetles and they used organic "lethal" insecticides such as tobacco dust and arsenic based compounds. Mostly insects were simply picked off the produce by the women and children.
There are many raised bed sides and corner devices sold commercially. They can also be made from cement blocks, stone, and sheets of metal. It's according to what you want, how you want it to look and what you can afford. If you can do the labor yourself, the price is decreased significantly.
Raised beds are an excellent way to garden if you have back problems or for the wheel chair bound. They are an excellent way to maximize a small yard.
*Pennsylvania Dutch is a corruption of the German word "Deutsch" which means German. Although we typically identify Pennsylvania Dutch with the Old Order Amish and Mennonite, it also describes emigrants of other religions from the same areas in Switzerland and Germany who migrated prior to the 1800s.
I found this interesting garden information while researching my family who were German speaking Mennonites from Switzerland. They migrated to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Another little tidbit of information that helps fill in pieces of the big puzzle.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Information Bites

A couple of notices for gardening folks.

In the past, the Galva (Illinois) Arts Council has sponsored several Garden Walks. It's a huge undertaking by both the gardeners and the GAC committee but truly great entertainment for those who enjoy the fruits of other people's gardening efforts.

Congratulations to the GAC! And, thank you to all the volunteers who have made the past twenty years so enjoyable for our community. Please complete the reservation form, return and help us celebrate this huge accomplishment!

The 2010 Spring Tree Sale sponsored by the Henry County (Illinois) Soil & Water Conservation District is now open.

This year the SWCD is offering:
  • Smaller container grown trees
  • Container grown hedging plants
  • Larger container grown trees
  • Container grown evergreens
  • Ground covers
  • Perennials
  • Container grown fruit trees
  • Spring bulbs
  • Soil testing kits
  • Nature field guides

Call the number listed for information, brochure and order forms. If you are not a resident of Henry County, call your local SWCD for their schedule. Henry County works with the Natural Area Guardians (NAGS) for the spring bulbs and other conservation items.

Spring Never Fails To Arrive

American Robin perching in the maple tree in the Spring haze today.
Close-up of an American Robin's breast.

A weekend of Spring showing us it will arrive in spite of a tough winter and world events.


For anyone who went outside, there was the constant honking of migrating geese. This show never fails to make me stop what I'm doing and watch as they head north on their Spring trip.


Saw my first robin of the year in the field Sunday morning. Big old fat male hunting and pecking at the wet ground.

We're experiencing a week of above freezing temperatures and rain. Although gray and foggy, it is washing the snow and ice away and cleaning things.


According to Jeff Lempe of the Peoria Journal Star, happenings in Midwest Illinois:
Opossums, coyotes, flying squirrels, muskrats, chorus frogs, skunks, wild turkeys, raccoons, minks, turkey vultures and ruffed grouse start breeding. No wonder they call Spring the season of love...
Chipmunks end hibernation, resident Canada geese nest, prairie chickens start booming, pheasants start crowing, wood ducks return and nest, great horned owls eggs hatch, rabbits bear first litter, quail coveys break up, eagles are incubating eggs on the Illinois River banks and pheasants establish crowing territories.
Turkey vultures, bluebirds, doves. wood ducks, and other ducks return. Sand hill cranes migrate overhead going North.
With all this action, it's a wonder we don't step on something every time we go outside.

Many folks have noticed spring flowers peaking up through the soil as the snow melts from their flower beds. I checked my records and I had crocus blooming on March 15 of last year. I also noted that we had snow on Easter (23rd) in 2008 and four inches on top of ice over March 28-29, 2009.

I've been officially keeping a garden journal for the past few years. Actually, kept the information for several years but put my book together recently. For a person who enjoys the "organization of data", it's been fun.

Although I enjoy computer stored spreadsheets, a garden journal had to be "hands on" for me to enjoy. It's a small inexpensive book. I've divided the pages into the twelve months plus a section for "yearly" and another for "other". For people who MUST organize, an office supply store is Christmas morning every time I step in the door. So difficult to focus on what and why I entered in the first place. This is where I picked up the little plastic tabs I used for the categories.

Once the book is organized, it is quick and easy to add information as it comes my way. Both from my own gardens and experiences and from a more global nature. Recently I added historical earthquake data for our area.

Some things that appear in my garden journal:

Dates of the spring equinox, winter solstices, the many wonderful nature facts provided by Jeff Lempe, weather data by averages, historical, and yearly events , "My Garden" by month/year, and other odd things that appeal to my fancy.

Some things I don't use in my journal but might appeal to you:

A formal Garden Journal that's organized for you. Add photos, or do it more like a scrapbook with drawings and decorations, use as a place to keep seed packets or other plant specific details such as when things are planted. Include poems or stories that you enjoy. It could be plant specific as if you were just a hosta or daylily lover.

Sometimes I only have time to throw a clipping in the book and then take time later to document. Entering the data is a good winter project.

If you're the organizing kind, I hope this has inspired you to take up a Garden Journal.


“I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would greet it in a garden.”
Ruth Stout

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Spring garden with manure tilled into the soil.
Picture from the New Hampshire Coop Extension site - yep, it's a pile of manure!

Your new best garden friend forever should be manure. Eeeeewwwwwuuuu, you say????

If you want to garden organic - manure is the answer.

A little ditty: The word manure came from Middle English manuren meaning "to cultivate land", itself from French main-oeuvre, "hand work", referring to the work of cultivation.
When we talk organic fertilizers, generally it is discussing three types:
  1. Animal
  2. Compost
  3. Plant

1. Animal manure is mostly feces but also contains urine and often bedding material such as straw. It can also contain seeds that have not digested. This manure can be from horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkey, rabbit, humans, seabirds and bats. In this country, home gardeners do not garden with manure from humans, seabirds and bats.

The manure from different animals has different characteristics (concentration for example), contain different nutrients, and specific uses. The way it is stored, weather, and other factors affect the nutients.

Animal manure should be well rotted before applying. Well rotted will help reduce the smell (sometimes totally eliminating) and will not burn plants and roots. Another little ditty: Elephant manure is practically odorless.

Manure should be rotted or composted to degrade any residues of drugs and eliminate any pathogenic bacteria which result from care of animals in a non organic farm operation.

For the non-farmer: Slurry is liquid animal manure. Typically, this is a product of large farm operations (dairy cattle, beef feeders, and hogs) and involves other steps a gardener would not want to do or have access. In this area, a slurry pit is often used at large hog operations.

You can make your own slurry or called "tea" in garden vernacular but I've never thought that whole process was anything I wanted to try and therefore won't go into it now. You can find recipes on line.

2. Compost manure is most often decomposed plant matter but may contain animal dung and straw. This is often used by small gardeners because of the ease, space constraints and provides a place to dispose of plant refuse.

3. Plant (Green) manure is plants grown for the express purpose of plowing under/in. This was one step in the "Three Sisters" growing cycle prior to commercial fertilizers. Three Sisters is one year plant corn, next beans, and third a green manure such as clover. The green manure would return the nutrients to the soil. In some specialized areas, seaweed and such are used.

I won't go into large manure storage/dangers since farmers understand the aspects and those that only garden will never handle or store a large amount requiring "rules."

I use rotted cow manure simply because it is easier for me to obtain. It works for my garden, flower beds and trees.

Using animal manure is not for the faint hearted, those not used to farm environments, or without a strong back. According to where you live and who you know, animal manure direct from the owner may be free or they may charge. Here are some scenarios:

They may be only too happy to have someone haul away the excess manure.

They may use it on their fields and aren't really interested in "sharing."

They may deliver at a cost or you may have to provide your own container/transportation.

You may have to load (shovel) or they may scoop into your truck/trailer.

If it's not aged, you may have to let it lay a year before spreading. Needing a place to store in that case. In town, check to see if it's an issue with neighbors or the law. "Raw" means not aged.

The only way to get it spread evenly is by hand shoveling. Manure is heavy but the more aged it is, the lighter it becomes.

Very important: Check the nutrient content of the particular type/source of your manure to make sure you are not making a situation worse or adding the wrong kind for your purposes. Do not apply more than recommended, it's a waste and actually causes other problems. The county extension office should have information on the nutrient content and variables.

Do not add animal manure the year you are planning a big garden party, garden wedding, tour of gardens, or neighborhood bar-b-q. If the manure is aged, it's not so much an issue. If it's tilled into the soil (as in a garden) it's not so much an issue. BUT, if it lays on top (such as under trees or in perennial beds), it's not aged enough or if it rains on it prior to the event - not so good for party ambiance.

Seriously, manure is perfect for organic gardening and returns to nature what came from nature. It's as ancient as gardening itself. And for those that might visualize my doing any of the hard labor of "manuring" - nooooo - husband volunteers quite nicely if perhaps a bit reluctantly.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chicago - Chicago

Hemeorcallis "Chicago Knobby" Daylily.
Lovely toothed edges.
Hemerocallis "Chicago Star" Daylily.
This is a very hardy plant with huge flowers.
Hemerocallis "Chicago Apache" Daylily.
This was one of my first hybrid daylilies It blooms every fall after most other lilies have finished.
Hemerocallis "Chicago Ruby" Daylily.
The red is so bright and beautiful, it simply glows where ever it's planted.

Chicago, Chicago
That toddlin' town
Chicago, Chicago
I'll show you around, I love it
Bet your bottom dollar
You'll lose the blues
In Chicago, Chicago

And, loose the blues you will when you choose a daylily from the Chicago Series. Their attributes are many, and I find these few basics worth the purchase: beautiful, sturdy, healthy, dependable and substantial. Add to that: the prices are usually very reasonable.

Developed by the late James Marsh, an amateur hybridizer from Illiinois. Mr. Marsh worked in his own small garden to develop some of the finest lavender and purple tetraploid daylilies available. As the years went by, he hybridized many different colors.

Before his death in 1978, Marsh made arrangements with Charles Klehm and Sons Nursery to acquire his stock and to release the daylilies that he would not live long enough to register. You will see these later releases as Marsh/Klehm introductions.

Marsh also developed the Prairie series - several of which can be viewed or purchased at Hornbakers in Princeton.

I have the four Chicago daylilies pictured. These flowers stand up to wind, heat, too much rain or drought. They have long bloom times and exceptional branching. Most increase clump size quickly making them ideal for division. I often give Chicago Apache as presents by simply loping off a hunk. In very little time, the plant has filled in the resulting gap.

The American Hemerocallis Society has named an award after this illustrious hybridizer; the James E. Marsh Award. This award was presented annually for ten years (1981-1990) to the most outstanding purple or lavender daylily cultivar. Quite an honor for our native son.

The following are all from the Chicago Series: Apache, Arnie's Choice, Blackout, Brave, Candy Cane, Cardinal, Cherry, Coral, Fire, Firecracker, Gold Coast, Gown, Heirloom, Jewell, Knobby, Maid, Pansy, Peach Parfait, Petticoats, Picotee Lace, Plumb Pudding, Princess, Raspberry, Royal Crown, Royal Heritage, Royal Robe, Rosy, Ruby, Scarlet, Silver, Star, and Sunrise. When looking for them always include Chicago first.

"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."

Hal Borland

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Maple Syrup By the Buckets

Bottle of maple syrup from Funk's Grove, Shirley, Illinois (near Bloomington). This is currently the only commercial maple syrup producer in Illinois although the Forest Glen Preserve in Vermillion County has a production that is mainly for demonstration purposes.

Here's a few maple syrup facts and then I'll get to why I'm even bringing this up (aside from the fact maple syrup is certainly one of life's little eating pleasures):

The province of Quebec in Canada is by far the world's largest producer of maple syrup - about four times as much as all US production combined. Owing to its economic importance, the maple tree is an emblem of Canada. (And you thought that cute little leaf at the recent Olympics was just for show.)

In the US, the New England states and New York have the primary producers.

Most maple trees can be used as a source of sap, but the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and the black maple (Acer nigrum) are the most favored. The black maple is favored by professionals and typically a tree will be at least 40 years old.

A maple syrup production farm is called a sugarbush. Sap is boiled in a "sugar shanty", "sugar shack", or "sugar house." Activity is rather intense during spring production (in Illinois that starts when nights still have freezing temperatures and days are above freezing). Spring sap produces the most sweet and best tasting syrup.

Publicity says, "Illinois is known for Corn, Prairies and Maple Syrup." Illinois is one of seventeen states in the Union that produces the liquid amber and is one of the furthest western states to do so.

This little bit of information may help you get the most taste for your dollar: In America, maple syrup is produced in two grades: A and B. Grade A is further broken down into three sub grades -- Grade A Light Amber (sometimes known as Fancy), Grade A Medium Amber, and Grade A Dark Amber. Grade B is darker than Grade A Dark Amber. The grades roughly correspond to what point in the season the syrup was made. Grade A Light Amber is early season syrup, while Grade B is late season syrup. Typically Grade A (especially Grade A Light Amber) has a milder, sweeter flavor than Grade B, which is primarily used for cooking and baking.

The "maple-flavored" syrups on the market today in the United States are imitation maple syrups, usually with little (for advertising purposes) or no real maple content. They are usually thickened unlike real maple syrup which has a thin consistency when poured. Real maple syrup is universally considered superior, although it is more expensive.

Maple Syrup should be stored in a cool place before opening and refrigerated after opening. If you need to store it for a very long time you can place it in the freezer, it will not freeze solid and will keep indefinitely!

The amount of sap required to make a gallon of maple syrup depends on the sap's sugar content. If sap is 1% sugar it will take 86 gallons to make one gallon of maple syrup. At 2% sugar it will take 43 gallons to make one gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it's more expensive than the fake.

Illinois Maple Syrup Producers are using the web site titled: "Land of Lincoln, Corn, Prairies, and 100% PURE MAPLE SYRUP" and I wish them well. At a time when traditional Midwest agriculture is volatile, it is possible to "farm" other products. Not easy nor investment free, it still may be a new and profitable industry for our future.

The current Illinois producers/vendors (there are a few private):
  • Funk's Grove, Shirley, (near Bloomington) IL Production is late Feb to middle March - Store's open March to August or until they run out. Call: 309-874-3360)
  • Forest Glen Preserve, in Vermillion County, IL. Festival on March 21, 2010, tours and sales through out the nice weather. Call for further information 217-662-2142.
Plus, in the past, there have been Maple Syrup festivals such as the Chicago Park District Maple Syrup Festival, North Park Village Nature Center, Chicago IL and in many neighboring states.

If you haven't tried REAL maple syrup, give it a go. Like all fresh produce, it has a flavor all it's own and worth the money. It's much like the difference between opening a can of corn vs. buying a dozen fresh from the field ears from neighbors, the Al Johnston family. Two totally different food stuffs with the same name. To the taste buds, one says it's corn - the other one is corn!

Think about it, Swedish pancakes, Bob Evans sausage, farm bought eggs, and real Funk's Grove Maple Syrup. Talk about local: Heaven, I'm in Heaven!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Who Would Want Worts?

Simply put, "wort" means plant. That's why we see it so often in horticultural names. Since it sounds a bit plain, nurseries often use alternate names.

Great Masterworts are also known as "Astrantia". The plant is a native to Europe and is from the same family as carrots.

I came late to the appreciation of Masterworts. I ordered my plant from Dutch Gardens in 2008 as an experiment. I try at least one new/previously unknown (to me) plant every year. These experiments have generally been successful.

I bought this small round rosette of leaves (Astrantia major "Rosea"), plopped in the ground near some daylilies and pretty much forgot the plant. To my surprise, one day I had beautiful sweet pink flowers.

  • The plant can be in semi-shade to shade.
  • It likes moist-highly organic soil but once established and well-mulched, it is carefree.
  • Because Masterwort plant needs moist soil, it needs to be watered frequently during times of drought, otherwise it will die.
  • It should be fertilized about 1 – 2 times a year for best growth.
  • A benefit of planting Astrantias near hosta is they repel slugs.
  • It is pest resistant.
  • Rated for Zone 4.
The plant forms a 12 inch round clump of lush green leaves. Astrantia flowers grow on stems about 1 to 2 feet tall.

Astrantias come in a wide variety of colors. The flowers on the Masterwort plant are unusual looking, as they are a group of tightly packed florets that are backed by petal like bracts. This makes the flower look very much like a star or a firework.

The plant has a dainty sweet look. It does not overpower other plants and may be overlooked when placed with other dynamic colors or sizes. This is perhaps why it isn't seen in many gardens.

Here's the good news:

  • The flowers are perfect for photographing.
  • They look beautiful in a bud vase, with their tall thin stems suspended high but not tipping the vase.
  • They are especially sweet in small vases.
  • They're cheap, easy, and beautiful.
  • Most colors range from deep rose to pale pink and lavender tints.
  • Starts blooming the end of May and will continue all summer if a few are deadheaded.
  • They attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Take a little of your budget for annual plants and do a perennial experiment with something new. (This flower cost less than an annual geranium at a nursery.) It could end up being your favorite flower - year after year after year.